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Lara Croft: Most real hero of current-gen

Tomb Raider’s storytelling is excellent, though it might not be immediately appear so. You see while Tomb Raider’s dialogue is decent, it's hardly a revolution in game writing. Similarly, its acting sits comfortably within the “strong for a video game” camp, but is hardly Oscar-worthy. And the direction of its dialogue-driven cutscenes is often stiff and a tad dull, particularly during the early stages of the game.

But regardless of all that, it serves up one of the most affecting action game stories in quite some time, and along the way cements its protagonist as one of current-gen’s most fully explored and completely relatable. Because in Tomb Raider that stuff doesn’t come by way of flat, waxy-faced cutscenes or ponderous expositionary journal entries. No, Tomb Raider is cleverer than that. Tomb Raider’s very best storytelling is always a product of its gameplay. Because the design of that that gameplay is all about empathy. As such, it all starts with the design of the protagonist herself.

It’s often fun to step into the inch-thick steel boots of a Grimface McBrickeater and commit the odd extraterrestrial genocide without fear of repercussion. There’s not a damn thing wrong with a bit of murderous escapism, provided you don’t actively involve schizophrenia and a big carving knife. But however much fun it might be to play as those characters, it’s impossible to ever really embody them. Because as a human being it’s just impossible to empathise with a 7-foot tall walking roadblock made entirely of gristle and emotional distance.

But deprived of the action game hero’s traditional bulletproof skin, Lara’s every success, failure and slim escape from underwhelming wheelchair-bound sequeldom is something that the similarly weak, squishy, highly flammable human player can understand directly. Yes, she manages to survive a ludicrous amount of damage over the course of the game (add together the various stabbings, lacerations, broken bones and beatings that occur during the first few hours alone, and she should realistically end up as something more akin to the dead, immolated corpse of a broken-bodied Silent Hill nurse than a leaping, bow-twanging teenage Indiana Jones), but her nature as young girl rather than armour-plated man of guns is used to make each and every bump, bang and burn a whince-inducing experience.

But if Tomb Raider just beat the crap out of Lara and handed over her bloodied body for the approving sympathy of the player then it would be little more than a creepy torture-porn babysitting simulator. An unpleasant hierarchical dichotomy between protector and victim, forcing a clear divergence between player and character. But instead, Tomb Raider leverages Lara’s physical weakness as a narrative tool, using it to bond player and character as one. With Lara no more capable, confident or amused by traumatic physical injury than any real human being, Tomb Raider takes that empathy and runs with it for the duration of an unspoken narrative played out almost purely through gameplay. And perhaps surprisingly, all of that story’s most emotive moments come as a direct result of shooting men in the head.

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11 comments

  • alllifeinfate - October 6, 2013 6:55 a.m.

    I would agree with that last statement... :)
  • taokaka - March 28, 2013 11:53 p.m.

    I disagree, I think 50 cent from 50 cent: blood on the sand is the most real current gen hero because he's actually real. Trololol. But seriously, I think there are plenty of other characters who are just as eligible as Lara to compete for the vague yet prestigious title of most real hero of current gen.
  • Arobadope - March 28, 2013 4:12 p.m.

    Sorry I disagree, I think Alan Wake is a much more 'real' character than Lara Croft. I like this Lara and everything, but Alan Wake was more believable.
  • SDHoneymonster - March 28, 2013 2:37 p.m.

    Think it says more about gaming heroes and heroines if Lara, a girl with abnormal intelligence and an hourglass figure, who can take ridiculous amounts of damage and becomes an expert in archery in little over a couple of days, is the most realistic of them. She's certainly an improvement on the old Lara and female characters in general, but I still struggle to find her realistic.
  • Ell223 - March 28, 2013 5:48 p.m.

    It's stated in the game that she trained at archery with Roth. I don't think you can call her out on being able to take ridiculous amounts of damage. She's a video game character, some liberties have to be taken in that regard. It's more to do with her character and development as a character that makes her realistic.
  • alex-roy-bristol - March 28, 2013 1:47 p.m.

    I know his game is "controversial", but, Alex Shepard? Idk, I really liked him... >//o//>; Also a very real person, I felt bad for him a lot of the game...
  • shawksta - March 28, 2013 10:37 a.m.

    Yeah pretty much, cant argue
  • QuantumZebra - March 28, 2013 9:46 a.m.

    Great article, and AMAZING game.
  • StrayGator - March 28, 2013 9:32 a.m.

    Serious Sam.
  • Dadyo238 - March 28, 2013 2:19 p.m.

    ^ This.
  • illi-cook - March 28, 2013 9:23 a.m.

    Nice article!

Showing 1-11 of 11 comments

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